I haven’t dared visit the theatre with children since my 7yr old daughter Millisent was just a tot, as growing up I loved to go to shows with my parents and have so many fond memories of calling out “He’s behind you!”. My best friend and I took Millisent to see the pantomime in High Wycombe one Christmas just after her third birthday and she hated every second of it which put me off ever going again. As it was on in the late afternoon she’d missed her nap time and so she was fidgety, we queued in traffic and dashed through the rain to get inside, feeling damp and stuffy the audience were impatiently noisy, children were screaming and kicking the chairs and the people sitting in front of us were absolute giants so we couldn’t see a thing. Our seats were stiff, greedily small and uncomfortable, and we sat in somebody else’s chewing gum for an hour and a half before wading our way through discarded popcorn and mountains of knocked over plastic cups to get out as quickly as possible the second it was over. The ticket prices were a rip off and the gags and routines were the same old monotonous drivel that the children didn’t understand and the adults frustratingly cringed at. What a shame.
Fast forward four years and Millisent is now 7yrs old and she is joined by a little brother Gabriele who is 2yrs. As a single parent I tend to avoid crowded places and events when it’s just the children and I, as it can be quite a chore when flying solo and trying to keep hold of little hands, navigate venues and queue for the toilets before keeping bottoms on seats, and tears and tantrums to a minimum so as not to ruin the experience for everybody else. However for our first family trip to the state-of-the-art Waterside theatre in Aylesbury, and less than a week before Christmas to see Cinderella, we couldn’t possibly have had a more incredible time. The children and I were in absolute awe and my love of pantomime is thankfully well and truly restored.
You see, for a young family a trip to the theatre isn’t about what happens when the lights are turned down and the curtain rises, but it’s the entire build up to the event that makes it special. From getting dressed up in their special Princess clothes to pushing the flashing button on the traffic lights and watching all of the whizzing cars suddenly come to a halt so that they can cross the road. It’s the cheerful footsteps and tender toddling along the frosty footpath on a chilly winters evening, the pinking of the cheeks and rosy red noses that gasp as they stare up at an incredible glass-fronted twinkling theatre filling the nights sky with pure wonderment and excitement. Spotting a gigantic pumpkin in the theatre foyer the children were effervescent with enthusiasm and bounced up and down as we gathered our treats of sharing bags of chocolate snacks, ice-cream, buckets of popcorn and fruit juices in special cups and straws from the bar.
Waiting eagerly for the show to start we counted down the minutes, stopping off for a final toilet visit and stowing our coats and bags ready for the curtain to fall. And that moment when thousands of people, men, women and children of all ages giggle and chatter in the build up to the performance, the room is filled with infectious energy, the lights fall and suddenly everything is silent before a roar of applause, ooh’s and ahh’s, instruments and electric light displays that are an absolute feast for the senses and leave every member of the audience speechless. And no iPad, huge television or cinema screen can ever capture the magic of watching a live show.
The Cinderella set was stunning, with scenery and effects straight out of a Disney movie, sparkling, twinkling, glittering and glistening. From ballgowns to palatial chandeliers, intricate dance routines to enchanted forests and the humble twinkling cinders of the fire. Suzanne Shaw was an hilariously-accidental fairy godmother and dazzled in a glistening gown of silver sequins, as gloriously white shetland ponies paraded the stunning Holly Brewer, starring as Cinderella, in her diamond encrusted carriage to the ball. Loveable Russell Grant played the Baron Hardup with some pretty impressive dance steps, and Aylesbury’s very own Andy Collins was the heart-warming and ever energetic Buttons, getting every member of the audience magnetically up on their feet, dancing, singing, cheering along and even dodging water pistols as he joined Cinderella on her precious journey from rags to riches.
And my face is now aching from laughing, smiling and singing along all evening, as we all had the most fantastic time. It’s so disappointing how something can work so well but become over-done and lose it’s magic, from a hit song on the radio being played over and over again until you’re sick of it, to fairytales that you know each and every line to, starting off as exciting but eventually leaving nothing to the imagination. As a young family we all thought that we knew the story of Cinderella, and I also thought I knew the cheesiness of panto, but tonight proved us so incredibly wrong. For the story of Cinderella held it’s magic and wonder, yet with a modern day energetic and enchanting twist and relativity to mesmerise all ages; from witty references to local businesses and villages, to taking pictures of the audience with a selfie stick, a hilarious version of the twelve-days-of-Christmas, to having the audience singing hysterically to ghost-busters and making every single hair stand on end with stunning renditions of Sam Smith, Frozen and One Direction. There really was something for everybody. Scatterings of lights and crackling flames erupted within a puff of smoke with each entrance of the Fairy Godmother, and thousands of glittering stars and sequins fluttered into the audience at the end, every second was awe inspiring and a treasured memory we shall never forget.
Not only did we go to see a family show at the theatre, but we were in the show the entire way through, with sensational audience participation, adorable children being called on stage to sing the sounds of musical instruments, the traditional boo’s and cheers for the heroine and villains, and the genuine elation from thousands of people all standing at once, waving light wands, singing and swaying together in a sea of arms and chorusing. To see the children’s faces light up as they sang their little hearts out and truly fell in love with the characters is exactly what makes this show so incredible. And I for one would happily return every Christmas to the Waterside pantomime. “Oh no she wouldn’t!” “Oh yes I would!”
General tickets cost between £10.00 – £27.50 and booking fees are between £1.90 – £2.90.